The COVID-19 pandemic has caused all of us to practice social distancing. For many people, that means working from home. I’m currently working from home, but this isn’t an unfamiliar thing for me. Before I worked for WT, I worked from home for five years. And even when I was in college, I used to work from home as a medical transcriptionist.
I wasn’t always as great at working from home as I am now, but over the years, I have learned what helps me to be more productive and how to stay mentally healthy. So for all of you work-from-home newbies who are finding it challenging (especially during this scary and chaotic time), here are some tips to help you stay sane and productive.
1. Create a separate work space
I know not everyone can have a fancy home office, but designate that corner of your room or half of the kitchen table as your workspace. You don’t want to do work where you spend a lot of time hanging out (the couch) or where you spend time sleeping (the bed). You want to create a separate space that you designate for working. That will send a signal to your mind and body that when you are in that space, it’s time to get work done.
2. Keep your morning routine
One of the appealing things about working from home is the ability to work in your PJs, and I’d be lying if I said I’d never done that in my many years of working from home. However, I always found that I was far more productive when I kept my morning routine: getting up, working out, taking a shower, getting dressed, and even putting on makeup. If you do everything you would do to go work in an office, you are more likely to take it seriously.
3. Avoid distractions
There are so many things that can distract us. Email, social media, the news. I’m not going to tell you to stay off social media completely or never check the news. Everyone wants to stay informed about the pandemic, and I think that’s important. But in order to be more productive with your work, give yourself designated time for distractions. Take a break for ten minutes to check your personal email, check the news, and check social media, and then get back to work. You may find it helpful to turn off your phone notifications or even turn your phone completely off when you are working. You can also try tools like the Chrome Extension StayFocusd which blocks distracting websites.
4. Be as organized as you can
I’m not saying you have to be meticulous about everything, but try to at least clean up the clutter and organize your workspace as much as you can. If you are constantly trying to work in an environment of chaos, it might be difficult to be as productive as you want to be. For those of you who are working with children at home, this might be more difficult, but establish that your workspace should be left alone.
5. Set boundaries
Speaking of establishing a workspace to be left alone, it’s very important to establish clear boundaries when you’re working from home. Have set work hours, and make sure your partner, your roommates, your children, etc. know when your work hours are. Make sure they know not to interrupt you unless it’s an emergency.
6. Have a system
You can use Dropbox, Google Drive, or Evernote, among many other systems to organize files and work with a team remotely. Utilize tools like Zoom or Join.me conference calls. Use tools like Slack or Google Hangouts to chat with the rest of your team. The good news is that the technology for teams working remotely has come quite a long way since my medical transcription days. It’s easier than ever to communicate and collaborate with your team, even though you may physically be in different locations.
7. Take breaks
This is so important. Don’t forget to take small breaks throughout the day. Stand up and stretch, go for a walk, do some jumping jacks. Get the blood flowing. Giving your brain time to rest will allow it to work better when you’re “on.”
8. Have an accountability partner
This may be a co-worker. It may be your boss. When I was freelancing, my friend and I used to email each other our respective to-do lists in the morning, and every evening, we’d report back to each other how much we got done. You are likely to be more productive if you have to report how much you’ve accomplished to someone at the end of the day.
9. Seek out social interaction
This one is specific to this pandemic that has all of us practicing social distancing. When your work day is done, make sure you schedule time to interact with your friends and family however you can. Chat with a friend on the phone, FaceTime with your siblings, use the Marco Polo app to video chat with your parents. Fortunately, there are a million ways for us to communicate, even when we’re all in our respective houses.
10. Keep a journal
I’ve kept a journal for over twenty years, and I can’t tell you how helpful it is. Documenting how you are feeling, what’s happening, and what you’re thinking is a great thing to do for your mental health. You may even want to develop a routine where at the end of the work day, you journal for ten minutes to transition into downtime.
11. Learn what works for you
Everyone works differently. Some of us naturally work better from home than others. Some people really need the social interaction with their co-workers. So cut yourself some slack if it takes you some time to adjust. Pay attention to the things that make you more productive. There is a lot of advice out there about how to be more productive working from home. It’s good to read the advice, use what works best for you, and forget what doesn’t work for you. It’s important to remember that everyone has their own system.